Monday, May 21, 2018
Equanimity as a Method of Problem Solving
My personal problems are so insignificant in the scheme of things, and yet my reactivity can completely consume my energy. The facts are clear that if I am kind, the world around me is a better place for other beings. The facts are clear that if I am not gripping one opinion above all others, there is more room for change and possibility. The facts are clear that there is enough misery and desperation in the world without my petty emotional attachments and rationalizations. But even so, I am a human being and my basic design puts me and my emotional upheavals at the center of my universe, until I learn how to see that pattern and shift my weight towards equanimity.
I saw a portion of a PBS Newshour program in which children of displaced families were being treated for the most severe life-threatening conditions of malnutrition, basically babies and children spending their earliest time here on earth starving instead of growing. One doctor was asked, "who does she blame, or what is the primary cause of this terrible situation?' She answered, "the war." What I saw in a matter of a few moments on television is just the surface of a very deep and deadly problem my species seems to have... the inability to embrace each other with compassion and acceptance. War is the expression of conflict -- acts of war are horrific destructive behaviors towards our own human family, and the very world in which we all live. The doctor, in spite of the unbearable sadness, devastating cruelty, and endlessness of the situation, is dealing with families, the dying, her co-workers, her community with compassion and acceptance; working flat out to ease the suffering for those for whom nothing can be expected to change for the better, and somehow being an island of equanimity in the sea of chaos.
Every mouthful since that program aired has brought me gratitude, sadness, and confusion. I walked to my local food co-op to buy groceries, passing a flattened baby bird on the sidewalk with a sparrow on a wire above me singing ceaselessly. This little bird baby, like the little human baby who weighs 7 pounds at 11 months old, had a beginning with possibilities. What can I do to change these outcomes?
I can walk more slowly, make eye contact, listen more and speak less, offer more and take less, support those who are in positions to take actions that I cannot take to directly assist others who are suffering, prioritize generosity, do my utmost to do no harm, and most importantly see my own reactivity and self-importance more honestly as distractions.
It hurts so much that communities and governments do not open their borders and coffers and food supplies to their own citizens in need, nor to other people from or in other places, without asking for some kind of power or control in return. What if that power and control is useless in the face of the loss we are living with as a species, as a family? So I will continue to build myself as a safer place for others, developing my practice as a person of no importance who is changing the world by observing my own gyrations as gyrations, and growing compassion and acceptance in every way I can.
A life could be spent making pilgrimages to places where human beings have been unspeakably cruel to each other, but perhaps more can be done by making every place I go part of a path that offers equanimity, compassion and acceptance. And so I will continue being joyful, even as the weight of sorrow becomes part of my normal weight. Perhaps I can make space for others to find these two parts of the same possibility and act from a state of balance. The image in this post is a painting my father did in a food court in suburban Maryland. He looked for beauty and love in relational spaces. Even though he has been gone 7 years, his vision still comforts me.